Oakland’s Greg Kampe screamed and scolded and tried everything he could to stop Green Bay’s second half surge on Thursday night, but it was ultimately futile—the Phoenix was just too talented, too relentless, too good for the Grizzlies to handle for 40 minutes. In fact, with a dynamic point guard and an NBA-caliber center leading the charge, Brian Wardle’s club might end up being the Horizon League’s most serious NCAA Tournament threat since the great Butler teams of yesteryear. And not just a one-off threat, either. If it can take care of business in the conference tournament, this bunch has legitimate second weekend potential in the Big Dance.
Keifer Sykes and the Phoenix are capable of doing damage in the Dance. (USAT)
For one thing, Green Bay has the bodies and athleticism to hold its own against a lot of high-major behemoths. Alec Brown—the aforementioned future pro—is a 7’1’’ big man who can be as effective on the perimeter as he is on the low block. Which is to say, all around really effective. Against Oakland, Brown shot 4-for-7 from the behind the arc, including a quick-release transition three, and improved his mark to nearly 47 percent on the year. He’s even more lethal in the paint (shooting well above 50 percent), and is anything but a one-way player: Brown’s block rate is good for 32nd in the country and he’s already broken his own school record for blocked shots in a season three different times. And while the senior might serve to improve on his rebounding, Jordan Fouse and Greg Mays are more than equipped to fill any void that exists on the glass. The pair of athletic forwards are fine compliments to Brown, adept at cleaning up misses and throwing down jams. Fouse, for example, racked up nine rebounds (four offensive) and shot 6-for-6 from the field against the Grizzlies, including a thunderous alley-oop dunk to accentuate the Phoenix’s 11-0 run out of the halftime break. The frontcourt’s size and athleticism is uncharacteristic for a program of Green Bay’s stature, fully capable of giving an unwitting or under-prepared high-major opponent all kinds of fits in a few weeks.
Both Long Beach State’s Dan Monson and Oakland’s Greg Kampe are on record in saying that their philosophy of building extremely difficult non-conference schedules, among other things, helps with recruiting—players jump at the chance to play on the biggest stages against schools that never gave them a look. Other cited reasons include: checking player egos, identifying team weaknesses early in the season, and, of course, the influx of revenue those games produce. And while all of those interests appear legitimate—it’s hard to argue with two guys who have made multiple NCAA Tournament appearances apiece—there reaches a point, whether it’s in Rupp Arena or the Dean Dome or during a trip to the McKale Center, when one has to beg the question: Is it worth the agony? With that in mind, let’s examine the five most brutal O26 non-conference slates this season.
Oakland. Kampe’s schedules have been reliably absurd over the last decade, and this year is no exception. How about this for a road trip to start the season: games at North Carolina, UCLA, California and Gonzaga… in a 10-day span. The Golden Grizzlies ended up losing all four, with only the California tilt being close, and two players—starting point guard Duke Mondy and forward Dante Williams—were arrested during the west coast trip and forced to miss several games as a result. A couple of neutral court contests and a game at Western Michigan later, Oakland was heading home for Thanksgiving with a dismal 0-7 record. Now sitting at 4-10, the good news for the Grizzlies is that they are back to full strength and demonstrating a level of resilience, even pushing Michigan State for 40 minutes in the Palace of Auburn Hills last weekend. Travis Bader, the most prolific three-point shooter in college basketball, has also begun heating up; the senior hit 21 shots from behind the arc over his past three games.
Greg Kampe and the Grizzlies face a gauntlet schedule.
Long Beach State. Monson probably did not expect he would have to dismiss two key contributors before the season started when he created this non-conference deathtrap. But that’s exactly what happened when Tony Freeland and Keala King, who combined for 20 points per game last year, were kicked off the team last May. Perhaps the 49ers coach would have avoided the trip to San Juan for the Puerto Rico Tip-Off Classic or backed out of agreements with Arizona or Missouri or another (or two) of LBSU’s talented non-conference opponents. But then again, probably not. The man loves facing elite competition, and his team’s 3-9 record so far this season is clear evidence of that. By the time the Niners enter conference play in January, they will have played eight KenPom top 100 foes, including five in the top 50. That seems like a recipe for a lot of losses, especially after the graduation of star forward James Ennis. One positive note for Monson’s club, however, is that UCLA transfer Tyler Lamb became eligible to play last Thursday night just in time for a home tilt against USC, in which he scored 20 points and helped snap the team’s nine-game losing streak. Brighter days are ahead.
For college basketball fans over a certain age watching the Summer Olympics, an oft-repeated nickname uttered by the likes of Bob Costas, Mary Carillo, Ryan Seacrest and others probably grates a little more than it should. The gold medal-winning US women’s gymastics team, as we all now know, has been labeled by someone lacking any institutional sports memory with the nickname “The Fab Five.” The five girls aged between 15 and 18 didn’t memorialize themselves with the name, but others — most notably former Fab Five mouthpiece and current ESPN commentator Jalen Rose — may stand to make bank from the trademarked name as the team rides its 15 minutes of fame on a barnstorming tour throughout the US this fall. As we saw mentioned on Twitter last week, the Olympics are fundamentally sports for people who don’t typically like sports, and there is no better example of the two groups weirdly crossing paths than this one. If anyone’s wondering, nobody will be talking about this ‘new’ F5 two decades from now — we think the iconic maize and blue legacies of Webber, Howard, Rose, Jackson and King are still safe.
Team USA’s men’s basketball team will play Australia this afternoon in the quarterfinals of the Olympic tournament, which will allow one of the two college basketball players in the event to take a shot at a team he no doubt idolizes. As Jeff Goodman wrote yesterday, St. Mary’s guard Matthew Dellavedova is looking forward to the challenge of matching up against NBA All-Stars Deron Williams, Russell Westbrook and Chris Paul. The rising senior and current WCC Player of the Year is one of the two SMC starters in the Aussie backcourt (playing off the ball with Patty Mills), and his 8.2 PPG and 4.6 APG have helped his country reach the medal round. For a complete look at his Olympic statistics, check out the FIBA page on the shaggy-haired star. The only other collegian in the basketball Games, College of Charleston’s Andrew Lawrence, played roughly 18 minutes per game for host Great Britain, but he was only able to convert 4-19 field goals and committed nearly as many fouls (15) as he scored points (16). His Olympic experience — engaging though we’re sure it was — is now over as the Brits did not advance to the medal round.
While on the subject of Dellavedova, his college coach at St. Mary’s, Randy Bennett, was voted by his peers as the second most underrated head coach in college basketball. The most underrated was Temple’s Fran Dunphy, who garnered a commanding 14% of the votes (Bennett got 9%). A couple surprises on the list were two of the most prominent names in college basketball — Kentucky’s John Calipari (7%) and West Virginia’s Bob Huggins (5%). With tomorrow’s release of the most overrated coaches in the game, is it possible that one or both of those two will also show up on that list? Check in tomorrow at CBSSports.com to find out.
Finally today, it is clear that Oklahoma State center Phillip Jurick has little to no interest in playing college basketball again. Just two months after an incident where he was cited for driving on a suspended license, the 6’10” player who was already dealing with recovery from an Achilles tendon tear was arrested over the weekend for possession of marijuana and drug paraphernalia. Predictably, he was suspended by head coach Travis Ford and will not accompany his team on a 10-day exhibition tour to Spain, which begins today. A transfer from Chattanooga State who averaged 17 MPG in 26 games prior to the injury, he’s certainly piling on the hurdles that he must overcome to ever see another day in an OSU uniform again.
Charlie Parks is the RTC correspondent for The Summit League.
The Week That Was
Collision Course: Oral Roberts and SouthDakotaState have set the stage for a fantastic final two weeks in regular season play. After splitting the season series, the Jackrabbits are just a game behind the Golden Eagles. Both teams are in the top-60 in RPI, both are ranked in the mid-major Top-25 , and both have an NBA-level talent in Dominique Morrison and Nate Wolters. This is setting up nicely for a rubber match in Sioux Falls on March 6.
Mo’ D-Mo: Morrison is closing in on 2,000 points for his career, which is some rarefied air in the Summit League. Just 11 players in the 30-year history of the conference have reached 2,000. IUPUI’s Alex Young was the latest to do so, and he is the active points leader in the nation with 2,142. This season has been opportunity to showcase some of the most impressive talent this conference has ever seen.
Competition To Come: Oral Roberts will face Akron in one of the 13 nationally televised ESPN BracketBuster games on February 18. Before the loss to South Dakota State, I would have said this game had big at-large implications, but now the Golden Eagles will really just be playing spoiler for the Zips. I think Oral Roberts should still be considered a contender for an at-large, and saying otherwise shows some major disrespect for the Summit League. However, I am not on the selection committee. A win will be good publicity for the Summit League, but Oral Roberts still needs to win the conference tournament to go dancing. Keep an eye out for South Dakota State on ESPNU as well.
IUPUI's Alex Young Has A Loyal Following Of Pro Scouts.
Records reflect only games against Division I opponents through Wednesday.
Oral Roberts (21-5, 13-1) — South Dakota State is a tough place to play, and losing to the Jackrabbits is not as bad as it looks. They landed a haymaker against the Jacks in the Mabee Center back in January and SDSU answered back with one of their own. The Golden Eagles bounced back with a road win against the third-place Bison, gaining some confidence for the home stretch. No one has ever finished the regular season perfect in the Summit League, and you knew they had to lose eventually. The Jacks were actually the best conference team they could have lost to. The Golden Eagles’ RPI actually went up after the loss. ORU is hot right now, shooting just under 50% as a team, good enough for tenth in the nation.
South Dakota State (19-6, 11-2) —Their last big test of the season will come against North Dakota State, and it could be the difference between ORU sealing the conference or South Dakota State sneaking in the back door for that all-important top seed. The Jackrabbits are in the top-15 in the nation in scoring and are nearly unbeatable when they get hot. Barring a stunning upset, it looks like both ORU and South Dakota State will finish the last two weeks undefeated and appear fated to meet in the postseason, which would be one of the most intriguing matchups during this championship week. Both teams have the DNA to topple a prolific Power Six team. Read the rest of this entry »
Charlie Parks is the RTC correspondent for The Summit League. You can also find his musings online on Twitter @CharlieParksRTC.
The Week That Was:
How Far Can Oral Roberts Go?: In their final season as a member of the Summit League, the Golden Eagles are enjoying one of their best runs in the past 30 years. The Golden Eagles are on a seven-game winning streak that started with the trashing of Xavier. They have dismantled the Summit League on their way to a top-50 RPI, and depending on how they fare in the ESPN BracketBuster, could even position them for the unthinkable—an at-large bid. Don’t laugh, Oral Roberts could potentially be a 25+ win team with another top-50 RPI win (depending on the BracketBuster), hell, why not shoot for a an 11-seed? ORU’s play has gotten national attention from the talking-heads of college basketball, and it’s time we give them their due here as well. ScottSutton has had his squad in this position before, and it hasn’t panned out they way they hoped. This one looks different. Beware, Cinderella is on the loose.
League Growing In Respectability: The Summit League is rising fast thanks to Nate Wolters and AlexYoung turning NBA-heads, coupled with ORU’s nearly flawless play and strong seasons from the rest of the teams in the Summit. The conference is now ranked #12 in the Collegiate Basketball News RPI (rpiratings.com) and #15 in the Sagarin Ratings—that’s about six places higher than it was last season. I expect the Summit League may take a big hit in the rankings next season when ORU departs, but for now, they are one of the top mid-major conferences in 2012.
The Run Jim Molinari (right) Is Putting Together With The Leathernecks Doesn't Go Unnoticed. (AP/Tony Ding)
Oral Roberts(14-4, 6-0) — You expected ORU to eventually take its place at the top, but how the Golden Eagles have done it was unexpected. The way they grabbed the #1 spot from South Dakota State and North Dakota State was just dominant, and it has propelled them into the national spotlight. They won’t be giving up first any time soon, and they made that abundantly clear. There are a lot of factors that have gone into the Golden Eagles’ success this season. For one, they are relatively healthy for the first time in three years. Dominique Morrison, as reliable as he is, has played at a level no one has ever seen him, and I cannot help but think the addition of Sean Sutton as an assistant coach has not factored into this as well. But what is the biggest difference about this year’s team? One name—Mike Craion. The senior forward redshirted last season for medical reasons, and the Golden Eagles struggled without him. He is not the best player on the team, that honor goes to Morrison, and he may not be the flashiest player, but he is the most important piece on the ORU squad. Craion is a defensive rock that has great vision. He has the ability to outrebound bigger players and score when it is needed. His stats don’t accurately tell the story (11.1 PPG/6.7 RPG). He doesn’t need the ball, and his maturity on the floor brings that team together. He has single-handedly won games with his defense and big plays. If he is not a first-team All Summit League selection it will be a crime. Read the rest of this entry »
Charlie Parks is the RTC correspondent for The Summit League. You can also find his musings online on Twitter @CharlieParksRTC.
The Week That Was:
Climbing Up The Charts: The Summit League hit a new all-time high at #14 in the November 28 Sagarin conference Ratings. The league was 18th in the preseason, but has risen steadily in the past couple weeks. There is no doubt the conference has likely reached its apex in the eyes of the mainstream college basketball fans with Oakland, Oral Roberts, and North Dakota State playing so well. Unfortunately, this won’t last with Oral Roberts departing next season and being replaced by Nebraska-Omaha. Enjoy the respect while it lasts!
Oakland Tops Tennessee…Again: The Volunteers fell to the Golden Grizzlies 89-81 on Monday for the second time in two seasons, and now it is clearly safe to say Greg Kampe and Company own the University of Tennessee. Will the Volunteers ever schedule Oakland again? The win marked just the third time in the 30-year Summit League history that a “power six” conference lost a game in back-to-back seasons to a Summit League team. Wow.
Racking ‘Em Up: IUPUI’s Alex Young is currently leading the nation as the NCAA active points leader with 1,753 to start the week, and he will likely close out his career with over 2,000. Right now he is ranked 18th in conference history, and could close in on the top ten by the end of the season.
The Golden Grizzlies Will Be The First To Tell You That Beating Tennessee Doesn't Qualify As An Upset.
Oakland (4-2) – The Golden Grizzlies beat down Tennessee again, this time at home with ReggieHamilton dropping 35, and he is among the leaders the conference in scoring with 20.7 points per game. Oakland has been much better than most expected, and they have ripped off four consecutive wins. The Tennessee win was huge for their confidence. They trust themselves, and they know they can get the job done without Keith Benson. Keeping this mentality will be crucial once the conference grind begins. Oral Roberts is a force, and they are hungry, but it has been a long time since Oakland lost to Oral Roberts, and they still hold a slight edge.
Oral Roberts (5-2)-The Golden Eagles had a huge 68-63 win against Missouri State at home on November 30. The way they won was impressive—pulling down offensive rebounds, hitting free-throws and playing tough defense. They are starting to get that Scott Sutton look. The Golden Eagles have so many weapons on offense, especially since Damen Bell-Holter is finally back although he is not quite 100 percent. There are four guys who can shoot beyond the arc, and at least that many who can bang around down low. This might be the most complete team in the Summit League, and we will find out if this is the case when they play Oklahoma next week.
North Dakota State (5-0) — NDSU has a big-time streak going, they have a chance to really make a statement with games against Western Illinois and IUPUI coming up. I’m not buying the perfect start until I see how they show up in a battle with a conference foe. They are winning because they are shooting lights out. They rank 29th in the nation in field goal percentage which is mostly due to sophomore big-man Marshall Bjorklund, who is shooting 72% from the field and leading the team in scoring with 13.0 points per game. If they keep this up they will be 8-0 going into the December 10 showdown with Arizona State.
South Dakota State (4-3)—The Jacks are still looking for that consistent second option to compliment Nate Wolters. Unlike their rivals in the North, South Dakota State is struggling mightily to shoot the ball, which is uncharacteristic of this team. Wolters himself may be struggling the most; he is shooting just 27% from three and 40% overall. A little help from his friends may take some of that pressure off his shoulders. They have the same upcoming schedule as North Dakota State, so we will get a chance to see where both of these teams stand in comparison early on in the season.
Western Illinois (1-2) – Their 59-55 loss to #15 Michigan opened some eyes. The Leathernecks are a much more athletic than anticipated with freshman Obi Emegano emerging as a star. Ceola Clark seems to have hit his stride as well, and the duo has formed a dangerous one-two punch. Western has a lot of holes, but right now they have some confidence and are looking forward to a big matchup with North Dakota State.
IPFW (0-2) – The ‘Dons haven’t picked up a Division I win yet, but they could get a nice head start in the conference standings when they face UMKC and South Dakota this week. Frank Gaines in playing out of his mind right now, averaging 23 points per game (7th in the nation), and the team is 41st in the nation with 75 points per game. They are one of the better scoring teams in the conference, and they have played some tough opponents— losing to #14 Xavier and Iowa. It is still early, and the ‘Dons have a strong overall game. Let’s see what they can do at the start of this conference schedule.
UMKC (2-4)— Losing to Northwest Missouri State, barely escaping Nebraska-Omaha, and then Getting dismantled by #11 Wisconsin by 46 points was bad for the Kangaroos look. They have the worst scoring offense in the Summit League, and two big conference games against IPFW and Oakland loom. Reggie Chamberlain has been the lone bright spot for UMKC this season, averaging 17.1 points per game. It is always a hard transition when you lose two great seniors like UMKC did, but the Kangaroos will need to play with a lot more energy if they don’t want to end up at the bottom of this conference.
Southern Utah (2-3) – They have looked rough to start the season. Despite shooting 48% from the field, they are scoring just 69 points per game. Their two wins against Division I schools have come against Bryant and UC Davis, and they have been close games at that. But other than the blowout loss to San Diego State, the Thunderbirds losses have been winnable games coming down to the final possession. Their height and rebounding ability has really become a problem and they sit 236th in the NCAA for total rebounds with 34 per game. They are about to face Oral Roberts, maybe the best in the Summit, then square off against Weber State, who may be the best in The Thunderbirds new conference. Thunderbird fans have little to be optimistic about in the coming weeks.
IUPUI (1-5)- As bad as the bottom half of the Summit League has looked in the opening month, the Jags have looked so much worse. IUPUI is pulling down just 33.9 rebounds per game and scoring 68.3 points per game—despite having the most talented player in the conference in Alex Young. Even Young is struggling—averaging 17 points per game off 38% shooting. IUPUI hosts the Dakotas before traveling to Louisville to get hammered by the Cardinals. This could get worse. Much worse. I don’t see them contending for a conference championship this season. There are just too many teams in the Summit that are playing better than they are at this point in the year.
South Dakota (0-3)—The Coyotes are still looking for their first Division I win, and they may be looking a little longer with Oakland and IPFW coming up next. They have the second-lowest scoring offense in the conference, but they have at least been competitive in their three losses. The wins will come for South Dakota, but they should view this season as a growth period as they transition into Division I.
North Dakota State at IUPUI, December 3— North Dakota State will look to continue their undefeated streak against the struggling Jags. This is an important game for teams that are headed in opposite directions. IUPUI needs this win to get on track, while North Dakota State needs this to compete with Oakland and Oral Roberts down the stretch.
Oral Roberts at Oklahoma, December 8— This is an important matchup for Oral Roberts. They are still looking for their annual power conference upset, and this is the perfect game for them to do it. Oklahoma looked strong early in the season, but were dealt their first loss of the season by Saint Louis over the weekend.
#15 Michigan at Oakland, December 15— Oakland got embarrassed last season by Michigan right after the Golden Grizzlies upset #7 Tennessee, will the tables be turned in this year’s rematch?
POY Stock Watch
Reggie Hamilton, Oakland (20.7 PPG, .891 FT%)—Trending: UP. The team is on a roll thanks to Hamilton’s back-to-back 35-point games. He is one of the leading scorers in the conference so far, and he is playing to prove to everyone that he doesn’t need Keith Benson on his team for them to shine.
Dominique Morrison, Oral Roberts (17.6 PPG, 44% FG)—Trending: HOLD. When Oral Roberts needs a big basket they go to Morrison. It seems like he can drop 30 points at any time, but he is content to move the ball and create good offense for his teammates.
Stephen Roundtree , Oral Roberts (13.7 PPG, 8.0 RPG)—Trending: UP. He exploded onto the scene last year leading all NCAA freshmen in scoring, and this season he has turned into a dominant presence inside for Oral Roberts. He has an array of low post moves, and his hustle and determination on the glass is what sets him apart.
Nate Wolters, South Dakota State (20.4 PPG, 6.1 APG)—Trending: DOWN. Wolters has struggled to shoot the ball, and his team is in a funk.
Alex Young, IUPUI (17.1 PPG, 6.6 RPG)—Trending: DOWN. Shooting just 38% from the field has hurt Young in the early going. His team is in shambles, and Young has his work cut out for him if he wants to bring his team back into contention.
Frank Gaines, IPFW (23.0 PPG)— Trending: UP. Gaines leads the conference in scoring and he has put IPFW in position to contend for a conference title this season.
With the completion of the NBA Draft and the annual coaching and transfer carousels nearing their ends, RTC is rolling out a new series, RTC Summer Updates, to give you a crash course on each Division I conference during the summer months. The newest update comes from our Summit League correspondent, Charlie Parks.
Reader’s Take – Almost every team in the Summit has its star this year, but to win this conference and have a legitimate shot at upsetting a powerhouse in March, you need a #2 option that is just as reliable in a big situation.
IUPUI appears to have the most talent with Alex Young and Leroy Nobles, as either guy can get you 20-plus easy-looking points at any given moment. But keep in mind, its not just the most talented duo, but also the two guys that give you the best opportunity to win. What doesn’t always show in the stat column can and often does show up in the win column (that little bit of Bobby knight-wisdom was for free).
Coaching Carousel – There have been a few key coaching changes this offseason in the Summit League. The one that could affect the balance of power the most in the conference is the departure of Ron Hunter from IUPUI. After 17 years leading the Jags, Hunter took the job at Georgia State. His longtime assistant, Todd Howard, was promoted to fill the vacancy. Hunter led IUPUI to its only NCAA berth back in 2003, but you could sense a change was needed and that Hunter had taken IUPUI as far as it was going to go under his direction. He is a solid coach, but the new scenery may be beneficial for the Jags.
More Carousel. The other coaching change of note is the departure of Dane Fife from IPFW. Fife moved on to accept a position on Tim Izzo’s staff at Michigan State. The move is a big bummer for the Mastodons, who have been steadily improving over the last six years under Fife, culminating in last year’s 18-12 record. His baby-faced assistant, Tony Jasick, now has the challenge of taking IPFW to the next level. IPFW may have taken a small step back in its ongoing quest for a conference title.
Sutton Returns to Coaching. One team that improved with a new coaching change has to be Oral Roberts who hired former Oklahoma State coach Sean Sutton. Sean served at ORU last year in an unofficial manner but he wasn’t able to really interact with players. But this year, the son of one of the legendary coaches in college basketball will try to bring the Golden Eagles back to the top. Sean was known as one of the best recruiters in the country during his long tenure as assistant coach under his father at Oklahoma State, so it will be interesting to see what kind of talent he will be able to attract to Tulsa.
Rolling Out The Welcome Mat – Two new teams have joined the Summit League, and Division I: South Dakota and Nebraska-Omaha. Personally, I was hoping for an already established D-I school to join the fray, but The Summit obviously has an agenda by grabbing these start-up teams. UNO is the new “ooey-pooey” of the Summit League, at least as far as nicknames go. South Dakota will begin play this year, whereas UNO will start next season.
Keith Benson Goes League – Keith Benson became the first Oakland player ever drafted when he was taken in the second round (48th overall) of the NBA Draft by the Atlanta Hawks. Reviews for Benson have so far been mixed, but he will definitely get his opportunities assuming the NBA plays basketball again.
Throughout the NCAA Tournament, we’ll be providing you with the daily chatter from around the webosphere relating to what’s going on with the teams still playing.
Ohio State standout Jared Sullingerhas basketball in his blood. If you recall, his older brother, JJ, pieced together a solid career for the Buckeyes in the early 2000’s
Marquette head coach Buzz Williams believes Xavier guard Tu Holloway would receive acclaim similar to Kemba Walker and Jimmer Fredette if he played in a major conference. A high compliment, but it might be a bit of an exaggeration.
With the memory of his late mother always in his mind, Indiana State guard Jake Kelly has led the Sycamores all season. It is tough not to root for a kid like Kelly, as he has battled through all kinds of adversity throughout his career.
Syracuse head coach Jim Boeheim believes that freshman big man Fab Melois the Oranges’s “X-Factor” in this season’s tournament. This is a bit stunning to me, as Melo spent most of the conference campaign relegated to the bench.
Georgia head coach Mark Fox may get a chance to battle his mentor, UNC head coach Roy Williams, if both teams advance to the second round. Fox got his start in the coaching world as a volunteer assistant at Kansas.
Florida guards Erving Walker and Kenny Boynton were key in the Gators’ rout of UC-Santa Barbara. The duo has battled inconsistency all season, but yesterday might be a sign of good things to come.
Pittsburgh big man Gary McGhee will seek revenge on his prep nemesis, Matt Howard, when the Panthers battle Butler in the second round. During the Indiana high school basketball and AAU seasons, McGhee never won a game against Howard.
Wisconsin got a big contribution from forward Mike Bruesewitz in the Badgers’ victory over Belmont. The sophomore forward recovered from a late-season injury to provide Bo Ryan‘s squad the necessary spark off the bench.
UCLA head coach Ben Howland will not rest following his squad’s victory over Michigan State. The Bruins have a big matchup with Florida on Saturday.
Eli Linton is the RTC correspondent for the Summit League. Tournament action tips Saturday in Sioux Falls, so get up to speed on all things Summit League and get a leg up on your Big Dance upset research.
Summit League Tournament Predictions
Saturday, March 5:
Oakland 91, Southern Utah 72— Keith Benson and company will make a statement in the opening game, leaving no doubt who the top dog in the conference is.
Oral Roberts 77, North Dakota State 70—Michael Tveidt, in his swan song, will do his best to help his Bison rise up one last time. In the end, ORU is just too deep and too much to handle.
Sunday, March 6:
South Dakota State 82, IPFW 75—the first upset of the conference tournament. Home cooking and a “why not us?” mentality carries South Dakota State to victory.
IUPUI 80, UMKC 75— Alex Young goes off, IPFW can’t find an answer.
Monday, March 7:
Oakland 88, South Dakota State 85—What a great matchup this would be… Oakland has too much firepower, and outpaces The Jackrabbits in a nail-biter.
Oral Roberts 81, IUPUI 71—Oral Roberts is playing like a team that wants it just as bad as anyone else. They will get revenge on last year’s elimination by the Jags.
Tuesday, March 8:
Oakland 80, Oral Roberts 79—It will come down to who has the deeper bench, the smarter players, and the more reliable players in crunch time. Oral Roberts has one or two guys like that. Oakland has four or five. The experience will be the difference. We knew it would come down to these two since day one. I think we are in for a classic battle. Winner goes dancing, loser goes home. See you at the Summit.
Eli Linton is the RTC correspondent for the Summit League.
A Look Back
Oakland is the sole representative of the Summit League in the latest CollegeInsider.com Mid-Major Top 25, moving up to #11. They have now won 23 of the last 24 conference games. Who knew this team would be better without Derick Nelson, Johnathon Jones, and Eric Kangas? It must be the shoes…or maybe it’s all Greg Kampe.
Caught On Film:
This Alex Young Dunk made SportsCenter’s Top 10:
Oral Roberts basically saved their season with a big road win against SDSU, despite not having Dominique Morrison or Mike Craion. The win kept them from falling to 2-4 in the conference, and bought them some more time to get healthy. Things may be looking up for the Golden Eagles.
1. Oakland (11-8, 6-0)–Nothing new here, the Golden Grizzlies are still the best team. They should have no problem finishing undefeated. They can even afford to drop a couple conference games in a worst case scenario (i.e. major injury), but Greg Kampe will keep his team running hard through the finish line.
2. Oral Roberts (7-12, 4-3)– They lost first-team selection Mike Craion for the season and the second best player in the conference, Dominique Morrison, for three weeks to a meniscus tear. It looked like ORU was done. But a 90-82 victory against South Dakota State basically saved the Golden Eagles’ season. Back-to-back conference wins without their two stars proves this team is still dangerous. Improved guard play is the main reason they have risen in the rankings. They also have the schedule working in their favor, with basically only one unwinnable game left — at Oakland.
3. South DakotaState (12-5, 4-2)—This is one of the best three-point shooting teams in the conference, but if you live by the three, you also die by the three. Cold shooting days are bound to come. I hesitate to keep this team near the top because of how far they can swing. However, with four conference wins so far, they have given themselves a great opportunity to finish in the top two or three. Clint Sargent is a huge distraction for defenses, and NateWolters is arguably the best point guard in the conference. He leads the conference in scoring with 19.3 PPG. And thanks to some SDSU fans, I have finally settled on a nickname for the young man; he is now Nate “the Lane Train” Wolters. Don’t hate it.
4. IUPUI (10-9, 4-2) — Their two conference losses came against the top two teams, and even those were close games. The Jags have two big-time threats in LeroyNobles and Alex Young–both guys are in the top eight in scoring. Coaching is what wins close games late in the season and in the conference tournament, and Ron Hunter deserves to be mentioned with the Kampes and the Suttons of the world.
5. IPFW (11-5, 5-1) — I know they are 5-1 in conference play, but I just can’t keep them above the big boys. They have one impressive conference win so far (at ORU). They also have the toughest part of their conference schedule remaining, starting off Saturday against Oakland. How will they weather the storm?
6. North Dakota State– (9-7, 3-3) In reality, this team is right in the middle of the race for the #2 seed, but the loss to IUPUI really hurt those chances. The Bison have two quality wins against SDSU and ORU, but two disastrous losses to UMKC and Southern Utah.
7. Southern Utah–(4-12, 1-5)– Southern Utah runs a beautiful offense — a ton of plays that they run with such precision — but the T-birds just don’t have the firepower to overcome the more talented teams. If only they could recruit some ballers…SUU should be a top team in the Big Sky Conference sooner than you think.
8. UMKC–(10-7, 3-3)– they split against the Dakotas and followed that up by taking care of business against Southern Utah and Centenary. Spencer Johnson is second in rebounding, and Jay Couisnard is fifth in scoring; It’s been the difference for UMKC.
9. WIU–(1-5, 6-10) their only conference win came in a six point squeaker against Centenary, and they just lost to SDSU by 31. Turn the lights out.
10. Centenary– (0-18, 0-7)– 0-31: that’s the combined records of the Centenary men’s and women’s basketball teams.
A Look Ahead
This is moving week for the Summit, and it seems like everyone is playing in a big game. UMKC at Oral Roberts, Oakland at IPFW, and SDSU at IUPUI on January 17 will have some big-time effects on the overall standings…MLK Day will be a great day for Summit Fans.
We’re back with another weekend edition of Boom Goes the Dynamite. Keep in mind that we’re trying out a new format this year, so please let us know in the comments if you think it’s working, not working or we should tie bricks to our feet and go jump in the freezing lake. We’re open to whatever feedback you have. The idea behind it is that we’ll update after each three-hour (or so) block of games with some instant analysis on what we’ve seen so far today. So here goes…
64 Nearly No More. Great game in Lawrence this early afternoon, as Josh Selby made his college basketball debut and in so doing saved a home court winning streak that began at Allen Fieldhouse when he was a mere freshman in a Baltimore high school. More on Selby’s first appearance of the season below, but for the second time this season, the Jayhawks survived by the skin of their teeth against an inferior Pac-10 team on their home floor. In an ugly, defensive-minded game favored by USC’s Kevin O’Neill and KU’s Bill Self, it was the inability for Southern Cal to secure two late defensive rebounds on scrambles that led to its loss here today. On both misses, Kansas didn’t panic and instead rotated the ball to the reverse side of the floor (this made Bob Knight very happy) where an open three-point shooter named Josh Selby was waiting. On both occasions Kansas was already down two and had taken a poor shot — had USC gotten the rebound, especially with 26 seconds remaining, you’d have to figure the Trojans were in the driver’s seat to steal this one. Didn’t happen, and perhaps that’s a reasonable explanation as to why Kansas has won a billion games at home and USC is 0-3 on the road this year. The Trojans had one more chance down one with five seconds to go but point guard Jio Fontan stepped on the sideline as he made his move. With the victory, KU has won 65 in a row at AFH, which is just over halfway to the all-time record of 129 that Kentucky put together in the 40s and 50s. KU should easily get to the brink of #70 and the top ten all-time between now and January 22 and January 29, when Texas and Kansas State come to town on consecutive Saturdays.
Josh Selby’s Long-Awaited Debut. In the most highly anticipated opener in the Sunflower State since Dorothy clicked her heels and found out you can go home again, freshman Josh Selby debuted in a Kansas uniform in Lawrence this afternoon. And he looked like the Jayhawks’ best player, going for 21 points on 5-11 shooting, including two gigantic threes down the stretch that saved KU’s 65-game home court winning streak. His five made field goals, in fact, were all threes, and he added five rebounds to go along with four turnovers. The one area that concerned us was this little factoid: one assist. Clearly Selby is a scoring point guard, and nobody is confused about that, but with the talent available to him on his team he’s going to have to make sure to pass the ball enough to keep the upperclassmen happy with their touches. This has been a concern with KU in terms of successfully integrating the talented guard, and after seeing him today, we understand why. He’s much more Jacob Pullen than Kyrie Irving. One aside for Maeshon Witherspoon, Selby’s mom… KU’s colors are crimson and blue with white trim and lettering — not orange. You might want to hit the student store on the way off campus this afternoon.
Mister Fontan Makes USC Better. USC has really struggled this season with early losses to Rider, Bradley, Nebraska, TCU and now Kansas already. The problem has been clearly a lack of offense, and that issue is directly attributable to the lack of a serviceable point guard. Fontan is beyond serviceable — he could be the second-best lead guard in the entire Pac-10 behind Washington’s Isaiah Thomas. Considering that the Trojans are among the worst teams in America in terms of assists, the addition of Fontan (who only had two assists today, nevertheless) should help Kevin O’Neill’s team greatly with running his team. With Nikola Vucevic and Alex Stepheson inside, there is enough talent here for the Trojans to make some waves in the mediocre tidepools of the Pac-10, so it’ll be interesting to see how they develop together in the next few weeks. He certainly felt that his team should have won the game today, as he tweeted after the game:
Oakland Hangover. Just a few days after winning the biggest game in program history, Oakland played badly in Ann Arbor today and never seriously threatened Michigan in a 69-51 loss. Keith Benson was alright, going for 11/7/4 blks in 37 minutes of action, but his supporting cast who were so impressive earlier this week didn’t show up today. Ledrick Eackles and Larry Wright combined for 31 crucial points in Knoxville, but they only came up with four today (on 1-15 FG). Greg Kampe’s team has played a lot of good major conference opponents this season, but the Golden Grizzlies coach would have loved to have notched a win over a Big Ten on his resume as well — they’ll have one more chance against Jared Sullinger and Ohio State on Thursday. Beating Michigan would have been easier.
Afternoon Games to Keep an Eye On... Some interesting mid-game scores to keep an eye on the rest of the afternoon: UCF leads Miami (FL) in an effort to keep their unbeaten record intact; UIC is challenging Illinois in Chicago; and Long Beach State is leading St. Mary’s at the Wooden Classic (RTC Live coverage there).
The Lede. Is there such a thing as an RTC Jinx? Some might think so after a couple of our recent feature articles. On Monday, we wrote a piece discussing how a couple of coaches who endured fairly miserable offseasons have turned water to wine with their teams so far this year — Louisville’s Rick Pitino and Tennessee’s Bruce Pearl. On Tuesday, Zach Hayes split the difference with his Contenders & Pretenders article, putting the Vols as a top contender while categorizing the Cards as a pretender. Of course, the thematic logic behind these articles still hold — Pearl and Pitino are having good seasons and UT is still a contender — but with both teams suffering pronounced home upsets against true mid-majors tonight, we’re starting to wonder if the RTC jinx is in effect.
Tough Night in Knoxville (GoVolsXtra)
Your Watercooler Moment. The Burden of Expectations Doesn’t Suit Bruce Pearl. There’s no doubt that Bruce Pearl is a phenomenal coach. The fact that he’s made Tennessee basketball (on the men’s side) relevant in the sport is all anyone really needs to say. He’s won 133 games in six years, put up a banner for an SEC regular season championship, gotten the Vols to an Elite Eight in the NCAA Tournament, and repeatedly knocked off elite teams in regular season matchups. But he’s at his best when little is expected of him and his team. During his first year in Knoxville, with UT coming off a 14-17 season the year before, the Vols throttled #2 Texas in an early-season matchup in Knoxville. A couple of years later, his team went into #1 Memphis’ house and knocked the cocky Tigers off their perch. Just last year, mere days after his team imploded as a result of the Tyler Smith guns/drugs fiasco, Tennessee knocked off #1 Kansas. On Saturday, as we all still have fresh in our minds, the Vols blew up #3 Pittsburgh in their own backyard. When Pearl can convince his team that they’re their backs are up against the wall, that nobody believes in them, that they’re the plucky little underdogs from down south… he’s fantastic. When instead his team is suddenly thrust in the role of The Hunted, as the Vols are every time they defeat one of the above list of teams, they fall, and they fall hard. Whether Oklahoma State, Vanderbilt, a bad Kentucky team or Oakland, Tennessee just isn’t comfortable playing the part of alpha dog. And until they shed that mentality, they’ll never become a serious contender for the national championship.
Upset of the Night #1. Oakland 89, Tennessee 82. Obviously, any time a top ten team loses to a mid-major, even one with an NBA draft pick such as Keith Benson on its roster, it’s a major upset. This had all the makings of a trap game, with Tennessee coming off its huge upset victory over Pittsburgh last weekend, and the Golden Grizzlies entering Knoxville as a two-time NCAA participant having already played the likes of Michigan State, West Virginia, Purdue and Illinois. They hadn’t actually beaten any of those teams, although Greg Kampe’s team came painfully close over the weekend against MSU. Oakland wasn’t fazed when they found themselves down eleven at halftime tonight, nor did they get rattled when Benson cooled off after a 20-point first half (he finished with 26/10). Instead, they actually got better, using the quickness of Ledrick Eackles and Larry Wright to break down the UT defense and get easy looks for everyone else. A 13-0 Oakland run in the late second half put the GGs ahead for good, as a shocked Tennessee crowd endured both the men’s and women’s teams losing on the same dark, cold evening. There are several reasons for this upset win on both sides, but if you wanted to point fingers at something other than the dreaded Letdown, try looking directly at Scotty Hopson. The UT star who was transcendent on Saturday must have been reading about himself in the interim, because he played more like the same old inconsistent player of old (1-7 for seven points) than this year’s new, improved version. The other issue tonight was Tennessee’s defense — the swarming spaghetti monster of arms and legs that we saw over the weekend looked frozen in place tonight, and Oakland exploited the Vol statues, hitting for 54%, the season high against the UT defense by far. As UT’s Melvin Goins said after the game, “the hunger wasn’t there as much [as against Pitt].” And therein lies the difference between a very good and a great team — the great ones stay hungry, even against schools named Oakland.